Integrating the Personal and Professional:
Assistant Professor Will Wittig
The Nautilus, Summer 2002
Will Wittig found the perfect fit
when he joined the School of Architecture as assistant professor in September
"There's a wonderful overlap between my personal interests and the mission
of the School," says Wittig, whose teaching at UDM and personal work both
focus on urban redevelopment, design-build as it defines an architect's
role, and the ecological responsibility of architects.
"These interests characterize why I'm at UDM," Wittig explains. "I think
one of the biggest strengths this University and this School has is that
we are truly involved in the community."
up in Kansas City and attended the University of Kansas, where he earned
his Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1989. There, he also met his future
wife, Timothea. After graduating, the two moved to New York with another
couple they befriended in the architecture program. Though Wittig intended
to go to graduate school with the hope of teaching at some point, he felt
it was important first to experience work in his profession. He spent
five years working at firms in New York.
Ready to explore the next stage of his career, Wittig came to Michigan
in 1994 to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he earned his Master
of Architecture degree. His friends followed a parallel path to Michigan
and Cranbrook, and Wittig, Timothea and their friends bought a house together
in Ferndale. After graduating, Wittig applied for and was awarded a fellowship
to teach at the University of Michigan. He, his wife and the other couple
also started a small design-build architecture firm, Crossings Architecture,
Inc., out of their home. While building the new firm, Wittig taught at
Michigan for three semesters, but soon found it daunting to balance the
home business and the long commute to Ann Arbor. He decided to discontinue
Shortly after this decision, in 2000, Wittig was approached by School
of Architecture Dean Stephen Vogel to teach as an adjunct professor. Wittig
had met Vogel earlier through a project Wittig's firm had designed in
conjunction with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center. Vogel also knew
of Wittig's interest in design build, and he wanted to incorporate that
concept more fully into the School's curriculum.
In 2001, Wittig was hired as a full-time faculty member. Today, he teaches
both a design-build course and "Energy and Architecture," which focuses
on sustainability issues, specifically passive solar design. He hopes
to broaden the course's range to include ecologically-friendly materials,
water conservation and alternative energy sources, in addition to the
general energy efficiency of buildings.
He also plans to incorporate his design-build expertise into more projects
that allow students to work with community groups. He began this process
with his first design-build studio. Students worked with Project Rowhouses
Foundation to design and build a maternity house. The project was displayed
last fall at the The Detroit Institute of Arts' "Artists Take on Detroit"
Teaching brings Wittig full-circle to his own experience as an architecture
student. He still appreciates what he feels was a more complete education
than he might have received through another discipline. He explains that
even if a student didn't end up becoming an architect, he or she became
a better thinker because architecture students are taught how to
think, rather than what to think. (Many faculty and students at
UDM would point out that this type of education is a distinctive point
in all UDM's programs—and an important characteristic of a Jesuit and
"Because it's project-based and there's such an emphasis on problem
solving, architecture forces you to continually look for a better answer,
because there's never a right answer. It's always a challenging environment,"
Wittig believes this experience is what promoted his interest in teaching
"As a teacher, I'm primarily motivated by the individual development
of my students. You could say that I love the process of educating an
architect more than I do buildings per se. I see the building as the end
product of that process."